Cadence interview June 2012


This June 2012 interview is a follow up to a previous interview in Cadence.

To read William Hooker’s previous May 1991 interview with Cadence, visit his website:

WH: Hi, I’m William Hooker, I’m from New York City, I’m a composer and a drummer. I do spoken word as well.

CADENCE: In the last 22 years, what are some of the things you’re been excited about, what are some of the things that have been going on in your life that you’d like to share?

WH: Oh, well first off, I’ve got at least four or five new projects happening, and they’re all happening, I think, because of more exposure to a larger public.  The first thing I feel really really good about is the quartet. We just played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, BAM. And BAM is basically the big place in Brooklyn. And Brooklyn now is changing, because it’s becoming a hotbed for a lot of good music, good art, dance, visual arts, and such and such. A lot of musicians live there. I live in Manhattan, but I can’t get around the fact that the places I really like to play in - the places that show us the kind of respect that our groups, I think, need at this point, as well as the financial rewards we need, in the Metro area, for the kind of music we play, me specifically - are these places, these venues.

I mean BAM is a huge, huge venue. They have it inside an opera house, they have two live performance spaces, they have the educational wings, they have films, and they have an in-house dance company, the Mark Morris Dance Company. So it was kind of exciting when after about a year and a half, I finally got to perform at the BAM, with a group called The Gift.

The Gift, right now, is myself on drums, Kyoko Kitamura on piano, Mixashawn on tenor, and Roy Campbell on trumpet. And that group just performed about 3 or 4 weeks back. It was a very, very big group. We got a large crowd because the place handles that kind of a crowd. They bring the crowd to it, so it’s not like I had to go out and do a lot of extensive work with it, because they handled it all. The sound was perfect, and the drums were pristine, and the piano was pristine, and it was a really, really uplifting situation, seeing that the music could be put in another place.

That was the most immediate situation, then after that I did a duet with William Parker. We have a duet going on that’s called Fate. This was in relation to an evening that was dedicated to Jimmy Lyons. That should be recorded soon.

The premiere of the funk band came out. The funk band has been in the studio. For about four and a half months I’ve been working on it. At a certain point I realized that was one thing I wanted to do - in terms of the feeling I’ve been feeling about where this music came from - what is one of the essences that the black music plays when he or she plays? I’m talking not only about funk but the avant-garde, and the great players I’ve looked up to throughout my life.

There’s always been something about all of these players that is a common denominator, and that is it. We’ve developed a series of events - they’re not really tunes, they’re not covers - and I have seven people in the band, we have spoken word, djembe, drums, trumpet, guitar, bass, sax and myself...We have a series of events that happen within about an hour and ten minutes. And those are all things that - the music happens in various kind of directions, in terms of orchestrating a piece, which can last anywhere from an hour to an hour and ten minutes or so. That premiere happened last week.

I'm still trying to develop the Live music/ Silent film project, that started off dealing with Oscar Micheaux’s symbol, The Unconquered. I travelled around a lot to do that one.

I travelled through the United States, I went to Brussels, I went to Germany. It was very, very well received, and I’m trying to deal with the next one, which is Body and Soul. It stars Paul Robeson, a great freedom fighter and individual, and that’s also a silent film that was done by Oscar Micheaux. The first time I did Symbol of The Unconquered, which has changed many times, we did it for the Vision Festival, two years ago I believe, while it was going to a lot of different places. It was lot of colleges, and that kind of venue, because a lot of colleges have film programs that deal with not only music in film but history, and how this person’s answer to D.W. Griffith was very important at the time it happened, which is like 1917-1919. He is one of the people whose work I got the rights to do. He’s the forerunner to all black film. Oscar Micheaux died penniless with no estate, in an unmarked grave. I am using a film copy given to me by my friend Rudolph Grey - who intially suggested me checking out Micheaux’s work...There are no exclusive rights with this project. So I was using that film, and I’m really processing the second one now. 

The first time we did it, I did it solo, and I did it solo in many different places. I started using groups and it worked out very well. The only thing I’m trying to figure out with that is the fact that Body and Soul is about and hour and a half long, and Symbol of the Unconquered is exactly one hour. So that’s one thing that has to be taken into account. Also, I really want to deal with people who are looking at film, and not just playing a solo, not just getting up and soloing. I want them to have some sort of affinity to the work, and it helps. I think it helps, and it comes across, in terms of the heart of what you’re trying to do - whether it be a dance piece, or you’re doing a piece for someone who’s performing and doing a visual while you’re doing it - and I’m just trying to find the type of players I think will be open to it.

And lastly, I’m doing a tour with a group, Strings 3. Strings 3 is myself, Ed Richart, and Dave Ross, who play guitar.  We’re about to come out with a new CD, the CDs have just arrived, as a matter of fact, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. We’ll do an official release kind of thing at probably the end of August, because we’re trying to get it out to people, and let everyone know this is happening, you guys included. We’re taking our time with it, because I’m looking forward to doing the tour in October, for like three weeks, going throughout the whole midwest. I wish we could get out as far as yourself but that’s a lot of driving.

Cadence: There’s a lot of open land out here.

WH: There’s a lot of universities, though, like in Seattle, beautiful places like Evergreen, there’s a lot of different kinds of situations. It’s just that I have to be able to gauge how much time we spend travelling, and how much time
 I spend being away from home. I really do love my home, I must say. I do a lot of practicing and a lot of homebody stuff, nature stuff. It’s just a matter of figuring out who will enable me to come out there to be able to travel in that area for a while.

Let’s see, we did a midwest tour at Dayton, Philly, Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, and then came back to New York. There were some other cities stuck in there too, we did a really good tour. By the time the tour was winding down, which was after about 10 days of steady playing, there was a recording made in Toronto, and that’s the one that’s coming out. It’s called Postcards From The Road, and that’s all set. That prepares people for the next time I go out with that particular group. 

The big thing that’s going to happen next week is Eternal Unity, which is a quartet.  It’s going to be for the Vision Festival. It’s a collective quartet, and includes William Parker, Dave Burrell, Sabir Mateen, and myself. And I’m kind of looking forward to all the various things that are going to be happening, including probably a new recording for NoBusiness.

And I’m just kind of being active. I’m staying very active, and I’m happy with the opportunities I’ve had, and very happy with the music I’ve played, because I had the honor of playing, last week, in the Cecil Taylor celebration, as well. They chose me as a person who brought his ensemble to play for Cecil Taylor. That was after about a month of celebrations of him throughout the city. You probably heard that was happening. Then I played over at the Issue Project Room. It’s a brand new place, in Brooklyn as well. The board of education gave the place to the Issue Project Room, and they’ve turned it into an arts and music space. And I played.

It was a great night, an honor for me. I was in with that group. And so all those things have happened, I think, you know, within the last 4 or 5 months. And I’m happy with all of them. That’s what’s been happening with me.

Cadence: Yeah, a lot of things percolating, and not just that, but being served.  Sounds good.

WH: Yeah, it gives me the opportunity to play as much as I want to, and really develop the music I want to. Because - if you don’t play that often, you find you get ready to play a gig in the next month or so, and you find the people have all gone their separate ways...this gives me a little more opportunity to stick with the people I’m working with, and to do things with them, and to use the kind of funds that are needed to show people they’re appreciated and that they’re doing a great job. So that’s a good thing too.

Cadence: Yeah, it’s pretty special. That’s how it should be. People have settled for less, or been paid less, or whatever but....that’s good to hear.

WH: Yeah, well when you get those chances, you can give people something based on the fact you’ve been with them for such a long time, and all of us have gotten nothing. So you just kind of roll with it. That’s just a part of playing this music, I think, and being into it for life. It’s been a very, very fruitful time.

Cadence: Tell us about the Rhythm in the Kitchen series..

WH: Well, this recent edition was the sixth year. The festival is under the umbrella of the Hell’s Kitchen Cultural Center, which is a 501 C3. That was started by myself and co-organizer Bob Kalin. We have a board and all the things you need for a federally subsized nonprofit. And there are so many people in this neighborhood that I live in, which is Hell’s Kitchen, which is kind of the west side, let’s know anything about Manhattan?

Cadence: Yeah, I have a vague knowledge.

WH: If you divided it up into squares, and you have the West Side, and like the Lower West Side. And the Lower West Side goes eventually into Chelsea and then The Village. But Hell’s Kitchen is that section west of Broadway area, which includes avenues 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th, from about 36th Street to about 65th Street. At the top of Hell’s Kitchen is Jazz at Lincoln Center, which is at Columbus Circle. All of this area was a working class neighborhood. At a certain point, the rents were very affordable, which is changing, and there were a lot of families here, and it was a Mecca for a lot of musicians. Because on 52nd Street, which I live on, down the street was the Charlie Parker shrine.

That’s 52nd Street. Charlie Parker, Monk, all these people played at this place. So that carries it’s own vibe, but that’s maybe like three avenues over.  I’ve been here for about 35-40 years, and in the course of being here, I’ve met extraordinary musicians. They all live in the area. We shop at the same places. As a matter of fact, when I moved here I ran into Dannie Richmond, who played with Charlie Mingus, at this place called Manhattan Plaza, on 41st Street. I won’t say it’s an arts complex, it’s a housing complex that has a certain amount of affordable housing for artists. And they have studios and a health club, all of the things people need to be able to live a very good quality of life. To me, they make their contribution just by being in the neighborhood, because they’re not about, like, corporate greed and all the things gentrification brings with it. So you do have a different vibe if nothing else, because most of the people work outside of America.

In my seeing what was here, in terms of musicians and everyone, I ran into this guy who was a tenant organizer. He services many of the musicians that are here, he takes care of them in terms of their rents and their battles with their landlords and things. But I also didn’t know he had this very, very, very deep love of music. I was playing at the Victoriaville Festival in Canada, one year, and I ran into him. So I looked, and said, you know, “what are you doing here?” He says “I love music.” And I didn’t realize that. When I got back home, I just said to him, “Bob, look, we gotta start some sort of organization.” He says, “I was thinking the exact same thing,” because he’s seeing all these musicians, I mean everybody’s here. So it took us a while, and after about a year and a half of having a very good lawyer, etcetera, etcetera, we set up this nonprofit. And the first thing we decided to do was to have a festival. So we got money from the community board, and Tokio Marine Bank, and we put on the festival. That was a three night festival, it had five people per night, and that’s the way it’s been for the last five years, until last year. We ran into money problems, and we had to strip it down to two nights with four groups playing. But the essense of what I’m getting ready to say, and you probably understand it, is if you look at the history of the festival, we have had undoubtedly some of the greatest players in the world, seriously.

And we have the best photographer, I think, you know, all these people are greats. People that I respect, and that respect me, and respect the neighborhood and the music, and play it to a level of such height that it’s beautful. And that’s what this festival has been.

Now the festival has been accepted as an official festival, cuz’ they probably thought, “they’re not going to last,” but we lasted.  So now it’s in Hothouse and all these publications which you know to be more traditionally-minded, because we’ve been seriously devoting most of our time to experimental music, and new jazz. We haven’t really gone into the whole traditional thing at all, because if you want to do that you go to Jazz at Lincoln Center, or you go to Newport, or Saratoga, some place like that. Or if you want free jazz, you go to the Vision Festival. But our festival is very eclectic, it’s across all kinds of boundary lines, and all the people are great artists and collaborators as well, because we have people playing together that have never played together before. I don’t want to name names, but if you go in, you can see some of the great people who have played. They’re all great. I don’t want to slight anybody or forget anybody, but the list is too long. It’s a long list.

So that’s what the festival is. After this last festival we’ve done, which was such an up for me, we’re still plowing ahead and getting ready to deal with a fundraiser, because we’re trying to this Indiegogo situation. We’ll probably try that again, and tweak our video. If you go in, you, can see our video, and see some of the musicians that’ve played in the festival. It’s a really great video, it’s really polished and professional.

Cadence: Excuse me, when you say “go in...”

WH: Oh. You can go into Hell’s Kitchen Cultural Center’s website, and you’ll see this Indiegogo thing, and that’s ended, but the video is still in there, I think.

And then, using an indication, you can see excerpts of all the people playing, that we’ve pulled out. That will give you some indication what the work has been about. As we were preparing for the festival, we had house concerts as well. The musicians would play in the house of the co-founder. That’s one thing we’ve had in this neighborhood for the last four years. So musicians go up and play, and that’s what that’s been, keeping this music happening. That’s basically what that is, and I’m really proud to be a co-founder, and a person that’s stuck with it, which I intend to do. It’s a great thing.

Cadence: Sounds pretty vibrant.

WH: It is.

Cadence: The opportunity for musicians to play is just paramount, it’s so important that there be something dignified. You were saying this earlier, it’s really nice to have a tuned piano and a real piano.

WH: I’m glad you said that, because that’s the way this is. It’s in a historic church. This church is some sort of a landmark building. They are open to the arts 180%, and they’re behind what we’re trying to do 180%, because we’ve worked with them, and Bob has worked with them, in terms of tenant organizing, and the people there are interesting people also. The thing that hit us, me especially, this last festival, is that each performer’s project is really seen in its totality, so you don’t have so much going on. The people that come there are very intent on meeting the person, hearing the person, seeing what the person is about, and also connecting with the person and their work. And that’s important to me, as opposed to just having a happening scene. I mean these people are seriously down with this music, it’s kind of astounding.

Because you get that feeling, where you think you have to entertain people, as well as present something...this is not like that at all. There’s just such a feeling of neighborhood and comradery, it’s strange. Hahaha!

Cadence: Yeah, it is strange. It’s abnormal. If normal is what most people do, than that’s abnormal, but it’s nice, and that’s what we need.

WH: Yeah! And these people don’t know that for me, to just come five blocks and be able to have great music, this is a joy for me. I mean I don’t have to travel all around, or go from one bar to another, or get on the subway...I just get dressed and go to this beautiful building, and all the musicians and people are there, and KCR has supported us, Columbia, and New York Jazz Record has supported us, and New York Times, I mean it keeps growing, and I’m happy about that. I’m looking forward to that, and to new performers. That’s another thing, we have new performers every year. We don’t have the same people over and over, we have new people every year who have done this.

And all these people are so excellent it’s mind-boggling. Probably because in New York City there’s so many musicians and creative people that are all at a certain level. I don’t know, it’s quite a joy. So, myself, Abby London-Crawford, and Bob Kalin have been sticking to it. We have other people that help us with the funds, too, and volunteering, and help us sell recordings and books. It’s a very nice scene.

Cadence: One of the things I was thinking of that you’re doing is that by allowing an artist to be present and get their work seen in more of it’s entirety, you’re being an advocate for them. And you think “why does an artist need an advocate?” and there’s probably a lot of reasons I haven’t thought of. The first one that came to mind was that there are a lot of egos that can be involved in group playing. It doesn’t always allow the most creative artist to shine. They sometimes need their own space, and it’s dependent on people to recognize that. It sounds like you’re kind of doing that organically.

WH: That’s exactly it. Because as a musician, I don’t like to cross a line with most artists. It’s your thing, it’s your band, you know, and whether you’re using people from London tomorrow, or Texas - if you’re the leader, you handle it.

And that’s one thing I think a lot of musicians understand among each other.  As long as you give people respect, and you yourself are trying to do something worthy in term of the music - if people understand it, that’s fine. If they don’t understand it, that’s fine too, because I’m not going to stop. So it doesn’t matter if people have ego, it doesn’t matter if people are selfish, it doesn’t matter if they’re concerned about themselves, whatever whatever - they have to accept that we are in America, and you try to work within the parameters of where you are. We are in New York City, an expensive city, number one, and also a city with so many creative people that just to play, and to be able to play strong, and play the way you want to play, and be given that opportunity amongst a bill that everybody is great...what else can you ask for?  Except for a lot of money, you can ask for that too. Ha! Well, we’re not capable of giving people that, yet, but what I’m trying to say is the conditions are optimum, so all we say is just to go, create. And I’m not trying to be anybody’s advocate, don’t get me wrong. I’m a very selfish leader in my own way, in term of the projects

I’m trying to do, and the projects I’m trying to introduce to people. But I’m not selfish in the sense of “here I am, give me the spotlight.” I’m just trying to be a conduit so the work can live, outside of the studio and recordings. I just want the work to live, and to play for people. The joy of playing is also a major part of it too. I’m happy when I do that. It’s almost as if I was given something and I just kind of want to share it with people. That’s the way I’m looking at it. Now the other two people, they may think differently, in terms of their relationship with the musician. They may consider themselves more of an advocate, or as, themselves, fans, or whatever. But it’s good because you have different people with different personalities and different goals in terms of art, in terms of really great music and what that’s about. So far we’ve got a really effective mix. So I don’t know, what I’ve been seeking, as a creative person around other creative people, I’ve gotten it - so I’m happy.

That’s basically what I can tell you. In the middle of New York City, one block down from Jazz at Lincoln Center, where these people are playing music where it’s really, well, that’s why it’s called The Avant-Garde Funk Band. It’s not by any means something that is just so “let’s boogie all night and get drunk.” It’s not like that.

Cadence: Good, that’s a nice description of the series.

WH: Yeah.

Cadence: I’ve just received a CD, I can’t find it now, but it was somebody doing the music of Thomas Chapin, and I read something about you being connected with his music. I was wondering about that.

WH: I’ll look at that and check it out. That’s kind of turning the corner into the recorded output. Within the last brief period of time I’ve put out quite a few CDs, at least four a year. The last two projects that I did for NoBusiness, who are going to put out the next one as well - Thomas and I did a duet, and the duet is called Crossing Points. It’s called William Hooker - Crossing Points featuring Thomas Chapin. That is in the format of a CD as well as a four-disc collector’s item vinyl LP. The vinyl is a beautiful work.

And prior to that is Earth’s Orbit. Earth’s Orbit is also on NoBusiness. Both of them got good reviews, people really loved the records, but Earth’s Orbit did not come out on CD. That’s also a limited edition, numbered, double vinyl. Both of them are double vinyl. So as a person that loves music, you’ve probably got the gist of what I’m about to say - when you open up a vinyl and see it, it’s beautiful, there’s no doubt. It just hits you that way, or me that way. And the sound, because it’s vinyl and carries that real sound - I prefer the vinyl to CDs, myself.

But when I first talked to Danas, the head of NoBusiness, he was telling me

in Europe they really like vinyls. I was telling him, “how are you going to sell these?” What are you going to do? Because I don’t even know if many people I know have record players, I don’t think they do.” So he said that in Europe it’s a different scene all together. That’s kind of why I’m looking forward to some experiences I’m going to have in Europe hopefully within the next year coming up. I really want to go over there and see art from different perspectives, see art from different countries. That’s going to happen a lot more I think.

So these two pieces came out, along with Yearn for Certainty, which is a trio. Yearn for Certainty is Sabir Mateen, and myself, and David Soldier. That’s on Engine.

I’m trying to think...that’s about it, most recently. But the thing that I like about these, as I said - the Crossing Points / Chapin thing, is both in a CD format and a double vinyl.

And Earth Orbit’s has the trio I led with Adam Lane and Darius Jones on it on the first one, and the people I have on the West Coast on the second vinyl. I’m very proud of these records. I can’t say enough. I don’t want to toot my own horn but I want to say they are really, really excellent records. I encourage people to listen to them in their entirety, if they can. I think we have people who aren’t just fickle and wanting to see an inversion of who William Hooker is.  People can put it on and really have an experience with it, and I encourage that.

So those are those most recent ones. I knew Thomas here in NYC, and we did it at a gallery, and it just so happened that the tape was rolling and we played, we really played, I think I’d never seen him play like that before in his life, I was glad to be the person to facilitate that. And then he passed away. But this record came out, after a whole bunch of ups and downs with it, and I like it. And I like the new ones that are going to come out too. I only put out records I really like.

Cadence: Yep.

WH: Wait a sec, David, I hope so!

Cadence: That sounds so good to me. I’ve got about half and half, I think.  Well, I don’t know about half, but I’ve got a few I’m not crazy about because it wasn’t on my own thing. You hear a lot of complaints like that, even if you don’t always hear about how grateful someone is for getting on a label...

WH: Yeah.

Cadence: But sometimes you hear how it wasn’t really what somebody had in mind.

WH: I understand, no, I hear you. I haven’t really experienced that, that much.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve experienced that at all. A lot of things a lot of people say I can definitely understand, but I don’t know if I can really understand the depth of what a person feels about it. Because we all have to try to do these things in our different ways, and I’ve been extremely...I don’t know, lucky isn’t the right word, but certain things are turned in a certain direction, and enabled me to do things that I’m really, really proud of. And I’m really proud of all the records I put out. There’s not one where I can say “Why did I do this? What is it?” I really can’t say that. So I’m really happy with these two as well. They were really good in documenting the stuff that I’d done. I hope that continues as well. I think it will - I’m happy with the two that are coming out in the next two months. I’m really happy about those too, you’ll be getting them.

William Hooker has since released “Channels of Consciousness” on the

NoBusiness label, and “Heart of the Sun” on the Engine label.

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